Good morning from Switzerland, where on Tuesday morning I witnessed one of the most extraordinary political speeches I’ve ever heard, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s address to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The conference came to a standstill as heads of state and giant corporations gathered up to an hour ahead of time for the greatly anticipated speech. Xi didn’t disappoint. In a veritable through-the-looking glass moment, the head of the Chinese Communist Party spoke powerfully and passionately in favor of “economic globalization.” He quoted Dickens, drawing “best of times, worst of times” attention to immense wealth and yawning inequality brought on by economic growth. He sprinkled his talk with Chinese proverbs. But perhaps the most shocking moment, one that brought guffaws of surprise from Westerners seated around me, came when Xi evoked Abraham Lincoln. Speaking of “development,” rather than “government,” as Lincoln did at Gettysburg, Xi said economic progress must be “of the people, for the people, and by the people.”
A large Chinese delegation attended Xi’s speech. And yet it was a predominantly Western audience that found itself in the unusual circumstance of being lectured to by the president of China speaking against protectionism and for protecting the earth’s climate. Xi made no mention whatever of the incoming U.S. president. But it was impossible to miss his not-so-veiled references to Donald Trump and his tweetstorm provocations since his election. “We are not jealous of others’ success,” Xi said, a startling message to discontented U.S. voters and their standard bearer. He declared that “no one will win a trade war,” adding that locking oneself in a dark room assuredly will keep out the rain but also sunshine and fresh air.
Deploying a variety of water metaphors, Xi termed globalization as inevitable as the tides of the ocean. Perhaps that’s true. The only thing that feels inevitable now is that the ship of international relations as we’ve known them for seventy or so years is headed into uncharted territory.
BITS AND BYTES
Samsung faces leadership crisis as judge considers arrest of Jay Y. Lee. Prosecutors have asked the country’s Constitutional Court to consider issuing a warrant for the company’s vice chairman and heir-apparent, accusing him of bribery in connection with the corruption scandal that resulted in the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. They’re also investigating where Lee got the funds for the alleged bribes. A hearing on the warrant request is scheduled Wednesday. (Reuters, Bloomberg, New York Times)
China’s Baidu hires former Microsoft executive for key role. Qi Lu, who was named chief operating officer, was the executive vice president in charge of Microsoft’s Office, Bing and Skype teams until last September when he left the U.S. software company. In his new role, Lu will help drive the Chinese search giant’s artificial intelligence projects. (Reuters)
China will require registration of app stores. The government is having a tough time controlling the spread of mobile applications—or what’s in them—so it’s requesting more data about where they’re being downloaded. That could mean a higher level of scrutiny for the many companies that run app stores, including Apple, Google, Baidu, Alibaba, and Xiaomi. (New York Times)
Snap’s co-founders will have serious voting weight. When the software company behind Snapchat goes public—as it hopes to do this year—Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy could hold up to 70% of the voting power despite owning just 45% of the shares, reports The Wall Street Journal. Snap named a new chairman, former Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, late last week. (Wall Street Journal, Fortune)
Oracle and Google refine their pitches to challenge Amazon’s cloud business. When it comes to marketshare for companies that sell cloud computing services, Amazon Web Services remains solidly in first place, although Microsoft is gaining fast. Starting this week, Oracle and Google are doubling down on their own strategies, in order to win favor with the world’s biggest companies. (Fortune)
Airbus plans a ‘flying car’ prototype this year. The mission: help drivers avoid gridlock on urban streets. Realistically, however, it will be a long time before this idea takes flight commercially. (Reuters)
What it’s like to work for Sheryl Sandberg. In the latest episode of the Fortune Unfiltered podcast, TaskRabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot, who is also an HP Inc. board member, talks about growing up in Detroit and why she never settles for “no.” (Fortune)
Marc Benioff on how business leaders can help narrow income inequality. “We don’t have to look very far to see the transformational and disruptive changes brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the fusion of technologies blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres,” writes Salesforce.com’s founder in an essay for Fortune. One prediction that really concerns him: by 2020, more people will be equipped with mobile phones than will have access to electricity or running water.
Benioff argues that business leaders have “an obligation” to ensure that technology, such as artificial intelligence, benefits “all of humanity.” Here are some of his ideas for restoring society’s trust in innovation.
SURVEYS AND STUDIES
It isn’t just your computer that’s getting smarter, it’s your phone. Roughly one-fifth of all the smartphones sold in 2017, around 300 million devices, will be capable of running machine learning software, according to Deloitte’s annual technology predictions manifesto. Plus, expect digital navigation apps to take on another difficult task—mapping the great indoors. (Deloitte)
Keep your eyes on augmented reality, rather than VR. Sales for virtual reality gadgets were underwhelming during 2016, but interest in AR applications—ones that use smart “glasses” to overlay images onto “real world” spaces—drove almost $1.2 billion in revenue for the AR category, far exceeding projections by Digi-Capital. Apparently, the Pokemon Go phenomenon piqued interest outside the consumer and gaming world. That could be good news for suppliers such as Microsoft and Google. (Digi-Capital)
People are pretty positive about the impact of workplace automation. Almost 80% of the more than 10,500 people surveyed for Accenture Strategy’s new “Harnessing Revolution: Creating the Future Workforce” said they were optimistic about technologies such as robots, data analytics, and artificial intelligence—which could automate at least part of their current jobs. Almost three-quarters of them see them as an opportunity to learn new skills. (Accenture)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Meg Whitman: Donald Trump Must Prove He’s a Responsible Leader, by Claire Zillman
Apple Could Lose Big Under Republican Tax Reform, by Aaron Pressman
Microsoft Dips Toe Deeper Into Human Resources Software, by Barb Darrow
Las Vegas Is Testing a Self-Driving Bus, by David Z. Morris
Here’s How to Hang Out With President Obama in Virtual Reality, by Jonathan Vanian
The 30 Best Workplaces in Technology, by Fortune Editors
ONE MORE THING
Peter Thiel for California governor? Sources close to the billionaire tech investor, a long-timer Facebook board member and adviser to President-elect Donald Trump, say he’s mulling a run in 2018. (Fortune)